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Coping with PTSD Symptoms

There are some direct ways to cope with specific PTSD symptoms. Try using these ways of coping to figure out which ones are helpful to you. Then practice them. Like other skills, they work better with practice.

Talk with a mental healthcare provider if symptoms continue for more than a few weeks or disrupt your daily life.

Unwanted, distressing memories, images, or thoughts

  • Remind yourself that they are just that, memories.

  • Remind yourself that it’s natural to have some memories of the trauma(s).

  • Talk about them with someone you trust.

  • Remember that, although reminders of trauma can feel overwhelming, they often lessen with time.

Sudden feelings of anxiety or panic

Traumatic stress reactions often include feeling your heart pounding and feeling lightheaded or “spacey.” This is usually caused by rapid breathing. If this happens, remember that:

  • These reactions are not dangerous. If you had them while exercising, they most likely would not worry you.

  • These feelings often come with scary thoughts that are not true. For example, you may think, “I'm going to die,” “I'm having a heart attack,” or “I will lose control.” It is the scary thoughts that make these reactions so upsetting.

  • Slowing down your breathing may help.

  • The sensations will soon pass and then you can go on with what you were doing.

Each time you respond in these positive ways to your anxiety or panic, you will be working toward making it happen less often. Practice will make it easier to cope.

Feeling like the trauma is happening again (flashbacks)

  • Keep your eyes open. Look around you and notice where you are.

  • Talk to yourself. Remind yourself where you are, what year it is, and that you are safe. The trauma happened in the past, and you are in the present.

  • Get up and move around. Have a drink of water and wash your hands.

  • Call someone you trust and tell them what is happening.

  • Remind yourself that this is a common response after trauma.

  • Tell your mental healthcare provider about the flashback(s).

Dreams and nightmares related to the trauma

  • If you wake up from a nightmare in a panic, remind yourself that you are reacting to a dream. Having the dream is why you are in a panic, not because there is real danger now.

  • You may want to get up out of bed, regroup, and orient yourself to the here and now.

  • Engage in a pleasant, calming activity. For example, listen to some soothing music.

  • Talk to someone if possible.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your nightmares. There are treatments that can help.

Difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • Keep to a regular bedtime schedule.

  • Avoid heavy exercise for the few hours just before going to bed.

  • Avoid using your sleeping area for anything other than sleeping or sex.

  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. These harm your ability to sleep.

  • Do not lie in bed thinking or worrying. Get up and enjoy something soothing or pleasant. Read a calming book, drink a glass of warm milk or herbal tea, or do a quiet hobby.

Irritability, anger, and rage

  • Take a time out to cool off or think things over. Walk away from the situation.

  • Get in the habit of exercising every day. Exercise reduces body tension and relieves stress.

  • Remember that staying angry doesn’t work. It actually increases your stress and can cause health problems.

  • Talk with your counselor or healthcare provider about your anger. Take classes in how to manage anger.

  • If you blow up at family members or friends, find time as soon as you can to talk to them about it. Let them know how you feel and what you are doing to cope with your reactions.

Difficulty concentrating or staying focused

  • Slow down. Give yourself time to focus on what it is you need to learn or do.

  • Write things down. Making "to do" lists may be helpful.

  • Break tasks down into small doable chunks.

  • Plan a realistic number of events or tasks for each day.

  • You may be depressed. Many people who are depressed have trouble concentrating. Again, this is something you can discuss with your counselor, healthcare provider, or someone close to you.

Trouble feeling or expressing positive emotions

  • Remember that this is a common reaction to trauma. You are not doing this on purpose. You should not feel guilty for something you didn’t want to happen and can’t control.

  • Make sure to keep taking part in activities that you enjoy or used to enjoy. Even if you don’t think you will enjoy something, once you get into it, you may start having fun.

  • Take steps to let your loved ones know that you care. You can express your caring in little ways: write a card, leave a small gift, or phone someone and say hello.

For more information

Coping After a Traumatic Event health sheet

Treatment for PTSD health sheet

PTSD Coach mobile app

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/1/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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